Reviewed: Doctor Who – The Complete History Issue 3

It’s no secret: I’m no big fan of Doctor Who Series 8, the first with Peter Capaldi. He’s a great Doctor, but that run of episodes didn’t do him many favours, trying too hard to be controversial. This third issue of The Complete History, covering Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, was never destined to be a favourite volume.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, it helps that these books are stunningly presented, and as I’ve mentioned before, you get a new appreciation of the stories. Nonetheless, it’s not inspired me to watch those two episodes – though I will do as part of a Who marathon.

I thought this would be a good time to re-evaluate why these stories don’t sit well with me. I know some of my distaste for Deep Breath is the result of missing Matt Smith. I still miss him, but that shouldn’t detract from Capaldi, who is perfect for the role. Missy plays a part: Michelle Gomez is great as the character, but that character isn’t the Master – not to me.

Similarly questionable territory is this series’ arc: the Nethersphere. The whole idea makes me uneasy.

Why choose now to mull over my feelings for Series 8? This issue includes an analysis of the 2014 series, pulling apart its themes and looking at how the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) develop. It’s an interesting read, not especially casting the run in a new light but still making you refocus. It does view the 12 episodes as wholly positive – however, that’s to be expected. This isn’t a partwork full of reviews; it’s in praise of the show.

I’m in favour of heaping praise on Doctor Who because it is my favourite TV series, negativity is rife anyway, and chiefly because no one sets out to make bad television. This means the analysis glosses over the sections of fandom that had a problem with Missy and with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The latter really wasn’t a fan favourite – not Anderson’s fault; he did brilliant work as Orson Pink in Listen (2014) – but here he’s viewed as a solely good thing. Calling him “charming” and “popular” is a bit much.

Deep Breath - Faces

The same round-up helps, however, to put this series and this Doctor into context with previous ones, noting the similarities with the First and Third Doctors especially. That’s certainly something we can all appreciate: it’s very fitting for this collection as a whole, actually. It’s what The Complete History should be good at, particularly when all 80 volumes have been released.

Ah yes! Now that’s something to think about. The 2014 series feature lists the volumes each episode appears in, so Robot of Sherwood, Listen, and Time Heist will occupy Volume 77, for instance. Volume 78 covers The Caretaker, Kill the Moon, and Mummy on the Orient Express, and the penultimate book has write-ups of Flatline, In the Forest of the Night, and Dark Water/ Death in Heaven.

Wait, what? This is an 80-volume set, right? Presumably, then, Volume 80 covers Last Christmas – but does it then continue with Series 9? Has this series already been extended?

Some will complain about this, but they shouldn’t be surprised really. It’s common practise. What’s more, if you’ve collected 80 books, it must be something you enjoy – what’s the harm in a further few issues? Personally, this would be more than welcome. I really like much of Series 9 and would love to find out the behind-the-scenes details of, for example, Under the Lake/ Before the Flood.

Bring it on!

Back to the matter in hand: this isn’t the thickest of books, but there’s still a wealth of information inside, a great deal of which is dedicated to Deep Breath. It occupies a good 69 pages of the 128-page count, and while its Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production sections are impressive, this episode’s guide is perhaps most notable for its thorough Publicity segment.

This 12-page chunk is the most extensive we’ve seen so far, covering not just immediate coverage in the press – interviews, column inches, trailers, documentaries – but also the World Tour, which encompassed cities like Rio de Janeiro, New York, and Seoul. This is accompanied by gorgeous photos, including a stunning one of Coleman looking beautiful in a stark red dress and Capaldi looking every bit the Doctor against a background of Cardiff Castle.

Into the Dalek 3

The minutiae of The Complete History remain exceptional, taking care to note how characters were originally described in the script, the duration of each trailer, and scenes that were cut during editing. The section devoted to Into the Dalek features the latter quite heavily.

The feature covering Into the Dalek might’ve been overshadowed by the breadth of detail for Capaldi’s debut episode – except for the fact that it feels very fresh. You still get the same amount of detail, of course, but the design of the book is really engaging. The pages and images are cast in variations of deep blues and purples, a stark contrast to the greens of the previous episode.

These two tales, I felt, were badly directed, a shock seeing as Ben Wheatley is such a big name. The Dalek story, though, was a slight improvement – and that’s largely due to the set design and colours used, so it’s nice to see that reflected in the book.

Profiles, this time, are for Peter Capaldi and writer, Phil Ford: the latter’s entry is a brief but solid detailing of his portfolio, while Capaldi’s is a far more thorough affair. Well, he is the Doctor after all. With snatches of interviews, publicity shots, and a mix of work and personal life, it’s a very interesting feature: fans will know the actor’s dedication to the world of Doctor Who, but The Complete History also shines a light on the hard times. Certainly this reader never realised the struggle he went through to finally get into the acting limelight.

This is as good a time as any to review just a few things I learnt from this book, then:

  • Jenny Flint (of the Paternoster Gang) referred to the Conk-Singleton Forgery and the Camberwell Poisoning Case, both of which were mentioned in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories;
  • Capaldi spent much of 2004 out of work;
  • The notion for Into the Dalek originally came when Steven Moffat was asked for ideas for Doctor Who: The Adventure Games;
  • Phil Ford wrote the first four drafts for 2009’s The Waters of Mars before Russell T Davies contributed to the special.

While I wasn’t especially looking forward to this issue, its appeal is nonetheless strong. It’s another fascinating volume in a series that’s already proving that a lot of love goes into each and every episode of Doctor Who.

NEXT: AN UNEARTHLY CHILD AND THE DALEKS (OR 100,000BC AND THE MUTANTS, IF WE MUST).

Want to subscribe? Head over to the Doctor Who: The Complete History site – and don’t forget about the premium subscription offer too!

(Originally appeared on Kasterborous Oct’ 2015.)

  • Dr. Moo

    Series eight isn’t that bad, worth a reevaluation I think. Deep Breath is no Spearhead From Space and no The Eleventh Hour but it definitely comes third as debut stories go. Into the Dalek suffers from trying too hard to be darkly comic in places and the Clara/Danny stuff at the beginning goes on WAAAAAY too long but it’s still pretty good as a whole. Deep Breath gets a solid 8/10 while Into the Dalek is a 6 so both get The Moo Seal Of Approval.

    • Philip

      I’ve rewatched it all semi-recently, but to me, Series 8 is the worst of NuWho. And Capaldi deserved better. Deep Breath might crape a 5/10 from me, and Into the Dalek… Maybe a 6? The saving graces of S8 were Listen, Time-Heist, Mummy, and Flatline. I really didn’t care for the rest, sadly. Robot of Sherwood improved greatly on a rewatch, however – no, really, it did! Nice to have some levity (and Sabrina Bartlett) in an otherwise grim series.

      • Dr. Moo

        The worst of NewWho to my mind is series two which is so awful (save for Fireplace and Planet/Pit) that it makes season 24 look Shakespearian by comparison. Series eight only really has two stories that aren’t passable – Kill the Moon and ItFotN.

        • scarvesandcelery

          I think season twenty four is remarkably refreshing after the Colin Baker era, which I’m not a fan of. “Time and the Rani” is bad, and the other three stories all have their flaws (although I love “Paradise Towers”), but everything good about the McCoy era starts in that season

          • TimeChaser

            I’ve always liked Season 24 too, sans Time and the Rani. Paradise Towers is a bit of an oddball, but Delta and the Bannermen is a guilty pleasure.

          • Dr. Moo

            I loved Colin Baker and so Sylvester McCoy had a hard time winning me over. The seeds are down but the stories suck and it’s not until the final scenes of Dragonfire when the Seventh Doctor finally arrives. He then goes on to be my favourite ClassicDoctor of the lot, so there is that.

          • TimeChaser

            Colin’s TV stories are a very mixed bag, but on audio he excels. He has so many good stories now thanks to Big Finish.

          • scarvesandcelery

            I think Colin Baker definitely gets the best big finish material – he’s had a lot of very good stories with them. Which is nice for him – he deserved something to redeem his Doctor in the eyes of fandom

        • TimeChaser

          You know, I was just thinking to myself today that I wish there was a (non-digital) option to own individual stories of the New Series, just like the Classics. There are some seasons I’d really rather not pay a full price on when I’m only really going to watch a handful of stories from it. Series 2 ranks very low – School Reunion is really the only salvageable thing in it, with The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit coming in second, but barely because I still have my issues with it.

      • bar

        Glad you like Time-Heist – I thought I was alone. I love that the Doctor thinks saving her is worthwhile – long before he remembers who he is or why they are there. with Saibra and Psi, the Architect and the clones, it was a fun way of quiestioning/playing with identities. I just wish they hadn’t spent SO MUCH of S8 discussing the question of the Doctor’s identity. it felt like they didn’t have confidence in him. Or perhaps in the general public’s warming to him after the two young and engaging types.

        • Dr. Moo

          Time Heist… eh, a very “safe” effort that one. After the flawless divinity of Listen anything would suffer so putting out something much less interesting made some level of sense, I guess.

        • Philip

          Time-Heist is a bit of an oasis for me – like I was finally getting back into DW after a start which honestly left me thinking, ‘this isn’t aimed at me anymore.’ I continued watching because it’s DW and because I like Capaldi, but they simply shouldn’t have done the “am I a good man?” arc. What a load of tripe. Time-Hesit was an injection of something different, without it being “Kill the Moon different”, ie. something people are obviously gonna be insulted by. I love Keeley Hawes, so that helps, but the Teller is a brilliant creation too.

    • bar

      There are some great scenes in DB, but tend to skip chunks. I would far rather rewatch ItD – maybe I’m just a sucker (swidt?) for meta stuff – getting into the Dalek’s head as we get into the Doctor’s, all the eyes, the slomo through the eyestalk lens and the scariness of the Daleks invading opera-style… I could go on but won’t. And yes, I do love the ‘don’t give a * what people think but demand they behave properly when rescued’ Doctor.

      • Dr. Moo

        I think the Twelfth Doctor’s sense of humour is better when it’s less in-your-face than what we got in ItD. Bits like the two mirrors from Listen, the deliberately-bad puns from The Magician’s Apprentice, deleting people from his memory in Last Christmas, talking to the horse in Deep Breath, even the pre-credits of ItFotN got this much right. The top layer comments from ItD come across like Moffat and/or Ford are standing there with a big neon saying saying LOOK AT THIS HOW EDGY IS THAT and it feels somewhat forced.

        • bar

          Yeah, I see what you mean Moo – we will grow to love his more relaxed humour, the difficulty is not killing him before we get there…

        • Philip

          I loved the humour in Listen, but I don’t think Capaldi’s comedic genius is properly used until Under the Lake, where there’s a real joy to what he’s doing. Under the Lake/ Before the Flood is actually my favourite Twelfth Doctor story because Toby Whithouse nails the Doctor so perfectly for me.

    • scarvesandcelery

      Season Eight’s honestly one of my favourites, “isn’t that bad” undersells it for me. “Listen” and the Jamie Mathieson episodes seem to be pretty universally loved, so I won’t worry about defending those, but I also rather love:
      “Deep Breath”, which gets better every time I watch it – everything from the restaurant scene onwards is pretty much perfect, for my money, an there’s ton’s of lovely exploration of the nature of regeneration through the theme of faces, veils, and looking (notice how many times and how many different ways faces, veils, and eyes are relevant to the script.
      “Kill the Moon” – more cntroversial, I know, but this is the same Peter Harness who wrote “The Zygon Invasion/ Inversion” and the excellent TV adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I reckon it deserves to be looked at on its own terms, instead of assuming you just shouldn’t do “The Moon’s an Egg”. If Doctor Who can’t do a concept that gloriously bonkers (and play it straight), then what else will. It changes genre frequently, an with skill and assurance, from base under seige horror, to moral dilemma, to human drama, and sells each with convinction. Just like “The Ark in Space” gets away with the bubble wrap because the actors and the script believe in the material, “Kill the Moon” makes “The Moon’s an Egg” a genius concept because the script, the production team, the director, and the actors give it everything they’ve. It’s a moving story about reclaiming golden age space travel sci fi stories through contact with something strange and wonderful, and I love that.
      After those seven episodes, you’re left with “Into the Dalek”, “Robot of Sherwood”, “Time Heist”, and “The Caretaker”, all of which are solid episodes that help bed in Capaldi’s Doctor, and “In the Forest of the Night”, which, yeah, doesn’t work, but I’ll be damned if I don’t find it charming. A group of misfit kids that have been written of as no hopers save the world by teaching people to fear less and trust more? Yes, please.

  • TimeChaser

    Series 8… What can be said? Capaldi certainly rises above the material, which is often not up to par, to be honest. Listen and Mummy on the Orient Express are true gems, though. Two of the best we’ve had in the new series (despite all the Clara/Danny garbage that framed Listen). But then, it also has two low points in a row, The Caretaker and KILL IT, KILL IT FREAKING NOW!